Posted: Sept. 16, 2011
THE PROFESSOR AND THE VICE PRESIDENT
By Celia Cohen
Joe Biden gave the first lecture in the name of Jim Soles at the University of Delaware. Naturally.
It was the intersection of the foremost Delawareans of their day in their intertwined fields, the professor and the vice president, the political scientist and the political practitioner.
The combination was pure electricity in Mitchell Hall on the Newark campus, where Soles taught and Biden went to college. It attracted a dazzled crowd of 650 people, who will be able to say they were there on the day Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. inaugurated the James R. Soles Lecture on the Constitution and Citizenship.
The lecture was conceived as an annual event in remembrance of Soles, who died last year at 75, on Constitution Day, commemorating the date the Framers rose from the convention, their work finished in Philadelphia on Sept. 17, 1787. This one was actually on Friday, the 16th.
Ruffles and flourishes would not have been out of order. There was the vice presidential seal on the lectern, along with a full house giving cheers and standing ovations and a stroboscopic effect as flashes of light accompanied picture taking.
Jack Markell, the governor was there, and so were Tom Carper, the senator Biden still calls "Tommy," and Chris Coons, the senator who sits in Biden's old seat.
What a way to memorialize a compact-sized professor, known for his wisdom and his easy counsel, for the carnation in his lapel and his love of jaunty conversation over a glass of bourbon.
"He liked a little pomp," said Catherine Soles Pomeroy, his daughter, with a merry flash of the distinctive Soles twinkle.
As much as this moment was the first lecture in the First State, it is ironic that Soles and Biden were not from here. Soles came from Florida by way of the University of Maryland to teach, and Biden arrived as a kid from Scranton.
Not that it would ever be questioned that Biden and Soles are True Delawareans. They have sculpted this state, as it sculpted them.
They had much in common, although neither was part of the other's inner circle. They were two Democrats who came of age politically during the turbulence of the Days of Rage and Flower Power, the Vietnam War and Watergate, civil rights, women's rights, early gay rights, the youth vote and a zany concert called Woodstock.
It was not a time for the sidelines. Biden ran for the Senate in 1972 and won, and Soles ran for the House of Representatives in 1974 and lost, and it has made all the difference.
Biden was on his way to the highest office ever held by a Delawarean, and Soles was on his way to an astounding legacy of students, who became governors, a senator, judges, state Cabinet secretaries, aides, campaign volunteers and plain good citizens.
Biden showed what Soles meant by joining the mourners at Soles' funeral, which fell on the freestanding day between Election Day and Return Day 2010.
Here on the day of the lecture, Biden was in a good mood. Not only did he have a crowd in utter silence absorbing every word of his for almost an hour, but he was also donating his senatorial papers, all 36 years of them, to the university library.
The place was in stitches as Susan Brynteson, the vice provost in charge of the library, noted that only 14 senators have ever served longer than Biden, and he crossed himself.
Biden was at his most lyrical. He recalled crystalline moments on campus -- learning of John Kennedy's assassination as a student in 1963, campaigning for the Senate as a 29-year-old in 1972, giving a consoling speech after September 11 in 2001.
"Yeats wrote a poem, 'Easter 1916.' In that poem, there was a line describing his Ireland that, quite frankly, it better describes the world and America today than Ireland in 1916. He said, 'All changed, changed utterly/A terrible beauty is born,'" Biden said.
He paid deep tribute to Soles. "Of one thing I'm certain. Jim Soles was a believer, as I am, that politics is not a dirty word. At the end of the day, politics is the only way a community can govern itself," Biden said.
"Politics is what those 50 gentlemen who met 224 years ago participated in."
Jim Soles lives on.